Articles by Katherine Brown

Katherine Brown

About Katherine Brown
Katherine Brown was born in Houston, and her family moved to Oakland when she was 6 months old. “I am fortunate to have a loving family and an amazing community of friends,” Katherine says. “I love to help others, which is fused into my life and work.” Katherine enjoys volunteering, dance, and sports, with football being her favorite.

Our future doctors and nurses, straight out of East Oakland

The Alameda County Health Pipeline Partnership's (ACHPP) vision is to have a workforce that reflects the rich ethnic and cultural diversity of our community.

The Alameda County Health Pipeline Partnership’s (ACHPP) vision is to have a workforce that reflects the rich ethnic and cultural diversity of our community. Katherine Brown – Oakland Voices.

By Katherine Brown

In looking at the negative perception many people have of East Oakland, one would think that there was no opportunity for success, especially amongst youth. With limited resources and outlets to support youth in their professional and academic development, the future seems to be very bleak for young people.

However, organizations like the Alameda County Health Pipeline Partnership (ACHPP) work to counter this perception, by creating healthy pathways for East Oakland youth to be agents of change in their city.

The program recruits middle school to college-aged youth that have an interest in health care careers.

“Sometimes they may not know or understand these careers, “ says ACHPP Workforce Development Coordinator Sequoia Hall, “but ACHPP’s initiative is to expose youth to the field.”

Career opportunities range from Emergency Medical Technicians to careers in the biotech industry. The partnering organizations that offer this exposure include Bay Area Youth EMT Program, UC Berkeley’s Biology Scholars Program, Biotech Partners, and CHAMPS – Children’s Hospital Oakland.

Launched in 2007, ACHPP developed as a coalition with health-related organizations that serve young people. Each of those groups had the similar mission of increasing diversity in the health care workforce.

The ACHPP coalition decided to design a program that created a pathway for youth to gain careers in the health care field. Dr. Jocelyn Freeman-Garrick – Alameda County Medical Center’s Emergency Medical Services Base Director helped push forward the effort, and has received funding from East Oakland Building Health Communities (EOBHC).

ACHPP Program Manager Jacqueline León explains, “there is a huge need to have a coalition to address health disparities that are unique to Oakland. We feel that they can be combated with diversity in the workforce.”

Health concerns that plague East Oakland communities include alcohol abuse, substance abuse, mental health challenges, domestic violence, and obesity. “We are a very rich community,” says León, “but the health statistics don’t support that.”

The ACHPP is looking to address those disparities by recruiting young people from those neighborhoods and training them to be health care professionals.

While offering paid internships, ACHPP recognizes the importance of making sure that youth are academically and professionally prepared as they continue on their career paths. For example, partnering organization EMS Corps offers EMT courses, and in addition to a stipend, they provide professional development and life coaching – where youth are supported in navigating their internal and external environments.

ACHPP also heads the Men of Color Initiative, geared towards enrolling more men of color. In 2010, 75% of the ACHPP participants were female, and 25% were males. In 2011, outreach was conducted in East Oakland – specifically in places like Castlemont High School, East Oakland Youth Development Center, and Allen Temple. These efforts yielded 80 males enrolled in the program. As of 2012, ACHPP has served over 1,000 youth, and they continue to work hard to create more paid internships, especially for youth of East Oakland.

For 16 year-old Ivan Arreola, ACHPP is helping to put his dream of becoming a doctor within reach. Katherine Brown - Oakland Voices.

For 16 year-old Ivan Arreola, ACHPP is helping to put his dream of becoming a doctor within reach. Katherine Brown – Oakland Voices.

One youth that has benefited from ACHPP is Ivan Arreola. The 16 year-old East Oakland native has always had aspirations of becoming a physician, and the program, “solidified my desire to become and doctor. It’s also broadened my eyes of careers in health, and how they each provide support and care for patients.”

ACHPP has, “provided me with a path I should follow and how to get to the next steps to reach my dream,” he adds.

The Alameda Science and Technology Institute student also takes classes at Alameda Community College, and will have completed eight college level science courses by the time he graduates from high school.

Soon to be a first-generation college student, Arreola joined ACHPP in the 8th grade Model Neighborhood Program.

In the summer of 2012, he participated in ACHPP’s Mentoring in Medicine and Science. The month-long internship provided him the opportunity to shadow staff in Oakland’s Highland Hospital and the University of California at San Francisco.

Through his work as a physician, Arreola hopes to give back to East Oakland. “People shouldn’t be liable for their own health care if they don’t have the finances for it.

“It’s important to give back to the community,” he adds. “All you see about Oakland is violence, but it’s also a place that brings people together in a positive way.”

With East Oakland youth that are passionate about creating better health outcomes for the community, the perception of the city will be much brighter.

Living Victoriously: Community Advocates Help Bay Area Women Transform Their Lives


Victorious Black Women co-founders Renee Harris (right) and Yvette McShan work to provide positive pathways for women in Oakland and other cities. Photo courtesy VBW

By Katherine Brown

It is rare to encounter folks that have faced numerous adversities, yet never complain. They continue to hold their heads up high, dig in their heels, and keep pushing for a better outcome.

It is even more uncommon to find someone who is willing to sacrifice and give their all so that others can lead better lives. Yvette McShan is one of those people.

The 55 year-old mother is co-founder – along with her business partner Renee Harris – of Victorious Black Women. Spawning from the African-American Task Force, the Castro Valley-based organization aims to help women of color – especially African-American women – gain a positive second chance at life. Through workshops, one-on-one counseling, and mentoring, Victorious Black Women supports survivors of violence, and helps participants overcome the stigmas of incarceration, substance abuse, and mental health challenges – all with the larger hope of stripping the prejudice and shame that society generally casts on women in those circumstances.

McShan works tirelessly. Even though she finds the work to be stressful, “my passion for people drives me.” Most recently, she reached out to ex-cons, the homeless, and those with mental health challenges to empower them to get out to voting polls. She also helped launch rallies for voter registration, and the realignment of the criminal justice system in California. VBW is developing a new program geared towards helping women who have recently been released from prison gain life skills and enroll in college.


Renee Harris (left) and Yvette McShan are dedicated to serving black women rebuild their lives after prison and substance abuse. Photo courtesy of Yvette McShan

McShan has a passion and drive from what she does. The excitement and happiness in her voice when she talks about the numerous women who have benefited from the program is so empowering. Since its inception in September 2012, Victorious Black Women has helped over 135 people. Most recently, VBW made Christmas a little brighter for six families in need, by providing them with gifts, food, and cash donations.

VBW has another success story: the woman that left home at 13, had a daughter a year later, and was in an out of almost every prison in California as she battled her heroin addiction. She eventually went to college and started her own business. That woman is McShan.

She was born in San Francisco and raised in a middle-classed household. The dysfunction at home lead McShan to leave in her early teens. She spent her adult life in East Oakland’s 65th Village, where she encountered drug king pin Mickey Mo, and became hooked on heroin.

“I have been in recovery since 1996,” she says. “I just decided one day that I wanted to stop, and I did.” Shortly after, McShan enrolled in Merritt College and received an Associates Degree in Substance Abuse Counseling. She plans on returning to school to receive her BA, but has put that on hold so that she can help others. “I’m not telling you this for a sob story,” she explains, “I just feel that if others see that I can make, they can do it. It’s real.”

In reflecting on the importance of helping people stay on healthy and positive paths, McShan says, “I do this not because I think I can do it, I know I can do it.” Actions like McShan’s and other other community leaders could help Oakland and other cities live victoriously.

Computer Love: East Oaklanders Tweet Their Affection for The Town

By Katherine Brown

While on this love experience, I learned that you don’t need very many words to define or explain it. 140 will do. To find out more about how folks from Oakland view love – and whether or not it exist in the city – I conducted a few Twitter chats with some fellow Oaklanders. Here is what they had to say.

Tahlia B. is a 34 administrative assistant and called the Town home for 14 years. She defines love as:

She goes on to say, “It’s giving yourself, your true inner self, away to someone totally and completely”

Chuck Hawkins, 35, is an entrepreneur and sale coach, and has called East Oakland home for over 30 years. He sees love as “willingness to keep the commitment to the thing/person long after the EMOTION has left that aided the decision, it keeps u going, it holds the key to your oxygen, MOTIVATION, drive & dreams. Love powers you.”

Hawkins feels that The Town has a lot of love to give. Particularly:

Hawkins believes that love does exist in The Town, but that it could use a little nurturing. He says, “in this context, love is a maturity deal it exists in the music historical aspects, but personal interaction, depends on where u are.”

For some, 140 characters was too small of a limit to express what love means. 35 year-old Raimone Bradford has lived in East Oakland for 32 years, and via e-mail, he defines love as:

“Love to me is defined as more than unconditional can describe. To me, Love must include sacrifice, pain, suffering and consideration. Love isn’t measured equally against what we apply it to. Love operates on a separate spectrum for each category we apply it to. There’s one thing that Love is without a doubt, and that’s the most powerful expression one can display. Love is blind, love is strength, love is eternal….”

And then there is the definition from Shelley McCray. The 39 year-old teacher defines love as:

McCray feels that it is possible for love to exist in Oakland. She says, “absolutely, my husband and I met here 25 years ago.”

She goes on to say how it is important to build a better foundation for the generations to come. Specifically, “parents who want the best for their kids, even though they may not have had exposure to “the best” themselves.” McCray explains, “TV & videos shouldn’t provide the model for what love looks like. Neither should I. You define love for yourself.”



Oakland, How Deep is Your Love?

So, you hella love Oakland, but how deep is that love? Photo: Katherine Brown, Oakland Voices

By Katherine Brown

Is it possible to quantify how deep your love is for something or someone? As I continue to delve into my love for The Town, I begin to reminisce.

My love for Oakland began in infancy, when my family decided to make this city our home in the late 1970s. In my 35 years, we have floated around several neighborhoods in East Oakland, and our roots here are as sturdy as the mighty oak that symbolizes this city. Growing up here, I have seen The Town’s share of ups and downs, but I tend to hold my memories of the ups much more closely to my heart.

Memories of going to the Castle and Malibu Grand Prix on the weekends – with golden tokens in hand, anxiously waiting in line to play the hot new arcade game, or to play a round or two of miniature golf.

Or reflecting on the countless hours my brother and I spent roaming Eastmont Mall while our mom got her hair done at J.C. Penney. Our visit wouldn’t be complete unless we got a scoop or two of the bubble gum ice cream from the candy store on the second floor. Ahhh, such sweet memories from when my love for The Town began. So fresh. So innocent. So real.

As I dig deeper into my memories, I can’t help but think of the positive reputation Oakland once had. From the 1980s to the mid-1990s, East Oakland was poppin! Local businesses – from T’s Wauzi’s record shop to Mother’s Cookies – were flourishing. And even though the Oakland Raiders left during that time, The Raider Nation stayed faithful until they returned to their rightful home. The sports stage was also shared by Billy Ball, The Bash Brothers, and Run TMC.

And let’s not forget the music scene. Sheila E., Pete Escovedo, MC Hammer, EnVogue, Too $hort, Tony! Toni! Toné! – the list runs deep. All of this greatness was rooted in the East.

Oakland native Sergio Martinez’s love for The Town runs deep, but he has concerns about where the city is headed. Photo: Katherine Brown, Oakland Voices

I often reminisce about my city with my equally – if not more – Townish co-worker and good friend Sergio Martinez. The 38 year-old health educator was born in the East – at Highland Hospital, to be exact. He grew up in neighborhoods near Fremont High School, and around 23rd and E. 14th Street. “I did go to San Diego in the summer of 1994,” says Martinez, “but Oakland called me back.”

When Sergio and I engage in our Townish discussions, they are often peppered with points of nostalgia – like the programming that used to run on the Oakland-based cable network, Soul Beat Television.

Or local eateries and staples like Food King, Talk of the Town, and Kwik Way. And we can’t forget about the local clothing stores like Harputs and Z-man. All of these and more fueled the one-of-a-kind and esoteric culture that is simply Oakland.

And how about our lingo? If you don’t know that hecka and hella came from here, then you truly do not know Oakland, let alone genuinely love it. Martinez feels that Oakland “is unique – the music, art, our view of the world is very unique.”

With all of the originality in Oakland, how could you not love it? “Just look at the deep history,” says Martinez, “Oakland has had folks that have struggled and persevered. People see it and gravitate to it. The environment is a cultivator of culture. It provokes creativity.”

So what happened? Why did the momentum that the East once had stop? Why is the love that once existed now replaced with hatred? Nowadays, my city is on the map for actions that are no where near as positive as they were almost 20 years ago.

Oakland is “losing that culture through gentrification,” says Martinez, “which is good for business and the economy. For example, look at ‘Uptown’ and Temescal.” He sees The Town being “in a transition. Folks are moving out and new people are moving in.” Over the past few years, I have seen parts of North, Downtown, and West Oakland get some love, as neighborhoods in those areas get lots of attention via commercial and residential development.

But what about the East?

The love that you have for Oakland should not just be displayed on your t-shirt, but in the heart that lies underneath. Photo: Katherine Brown, Oakland Voices

As Sergio and I continue to talk about how the tide has turned in The Town, he makes this simple statement: “Am I a part of this new Oakland? I don’t know. This ain’t Oakland.”

I tend to agree with Sergio. I don’t know how I fit in to what this city has become. With this new wave of Oaklanders, it seems like The Town is being boiled down to a fad – slowly losing its identity as it becomes a caricature of other metropolitan cities.

My hope is to keep the positive legacy of Oakland alive. The Oakland that I grew to love.

VIDEO: Oakland, Where is the Love?

We should no longer turn a blind eye to the abundance of love that flows through the heart of East Oakland. Katherine Brown – Oakland Voices 2012.

By Katherine Brown

So many people use your name in vain
Those who faith in you sometimes go astray
Through all the ups and downs the joy and hurt
For better or worse I still will choose you first

Love – Musiq Soulchild

L-O-V-E. Love. Such a small word, yet complex beyond measure. I guess that is why love is such a conundrum. It’s often very easy to say. It can be a challenge to show, and even harder to explain how it makes us feel. So to learn more about this little thing we call love, I took to the streets to learn how East Oaklanders define love, and how they see it existing in the Town.

When I asked, “what is your definition of ‘love?,’” I was usually met with a long pause. Then an expression of perplexity. Initially, I thought these were warning signs that the person was about to politely respond, “Sorry, but I can’t answer this,” and walk away. That maybe it was too much of a touchy-feely question to answer, and that they didn’t want to bother to expound.

In those moments, I was beginning to believe the hype. The idea that The Town is filled with folks that have gone through so much trauma and pain that they no longer have the desire or ability to believe in or express love.

I was wrong. They were actually launching into deep thought, before sharing their definitions – each as unique as they were. And offering heartfelt and compelling rationales of how and why love does exist in The Town.

Like Lauren Sharpe-King, a 28 year-old hairstylist and make up artist that has lived in East Oakland all of her life.

Or friends Kawanda Swafford, 28, a nursing student that has lived in East Oakland for over 12 years;  Miguel Arbulu, 28, a medical student that recently completed an internship at Highland Hospital; and LaTasha Brown, 29, an artist and entrepreneur that has lived in East Oakland all of her life.

Then there is William LaRue, local artist who has spent over 30 of his 70+ years in The Town.

Dominique Hayes, 19, is a student born and raised most of his life in East Oakland.

Finally, Hayes’ basketball teammate Stanley Watson, 17, who also has his roots here.


Health of the Hood – What Makes the Mills College Neighborhood Healthy?

By Katherine Brown

When trying to identify what makes my neighborhood healthy, I was hard pressed to find glaring examples of what is traditionally associated with “healthy living.” There aren’t any farmers markets, open green spaces, bike lanes, etc.  The street that I live on is residential and is pretty quiet, and in some instances, kind of boring.

But considering bordering neighborhoods along nearby Seminary, which was recently on lock down due to the hunt for the culprits in an officer involved shooting, boring is not so bad. Actually, I see boring a health benefit to my neighborhood.

I have lived in this neighborhood for over 20 years, and have seen quite a few changes over time. Some folks have come and gone, but the ones that have stayed have formed a really strong bond. We look out for one another, especially our elderly neighbors that don’t have loved ones in close proximity – making sure they have enough to eat, taking them to their doctor’s appointments, or tossing their morning paper on the porch so they don’t have to walk out too far to get it. These small acts of kindness create a ripple effect of paying it forward, which is absolutely a refreshing feeling in The Town.

Over the past few years there has been a wave of new residents who have made strides to make the neighborhood safer. They have created a neighborhood listserv that keeps folks in the loop about any activity in the neighborhood – specifically alerts about break-ins or non-residents that are possibly casing homes. They have also organized the annual block party between Brann St. and Roberts Ave., along 56th Ave. – where neighbors have the opportunity to mix and mingle, share dishes, and meet some of the beat cops that patrol the neighborhood.

On my block, I also see a lot of people that live, work, or play in this area riding their bikes to and fro, walking their dogs, or taking family walks. The serenity that exists in my neighborhood can be breathtaking. In the fall, when the leaves turn auburn and red, swaying in the warm, gentle breeze, it is such a calming experience. Those precious moments and sights are reminders that there is beauty and peacefulness in The Town.

Below are just a few images of things that I feel are healthy attributes to my neighborhood. Outwardly, they may look like blights, or underutilized, but for me, they are outlets that promote health and well-being.

Nail Salon Owners’ New Strategy to Go Green & Improve Relations with Black Clients

East Oakland nail salon owner Van (Vanessa) Nguyen is trying to eliminate cheaper, more toxic products from her business, while staying afloat in the struggling economy. Photo: Katherine Brown/Oakland Voices.

By Katherine Brown

It amazes me how priorities change as you grow older. Feats and experiences that seem so trivial now, meant the world to me as an adolescent. One activity in particular was getting a mani-pedi.

I wasn’t one of those teens that got my nails done every week – only on special occasions. For prom, graduation, or a friend’s birthday party – a nice acrylic French manicure was the perfect touch to make things complete.

A salon visit took nearly two hours, and to me, it was like a miniature vacation. The comfort of sitting in the soft spa massage chair – listening to the soothing hum of the motor as it would gently kneed the stress away. Slowly drifting off into daydream land as the warm water swirled over my toes in the foot spa.

Getting a mani-pedi was almost like a rite of passage to womanhood – the essence of beauty. With each nail that the stylist carefully glued, filed, painted and designed, it enhanced the feeling of confidence and splendor that sat within me.

Back then, my only worry in the salon was if the stylist I liked was available, and what color I wanted.

Fast forward to today. I still walk in looking for my favorite stylist, but I also worry about so much more. Like, how toxic is that brand of nail polish? What sterilization practices does the salon use on their instruments? How are the aromas from the glue and acrylic powder affecting me? The stylist? The ozone layer?

There are organizations that have similar concerns, and are working hard to create positive change. Nail Salon Women Greening Their Jobs and the Environment is a project of Community Health for Asian Americans (CHAA), which is a grantee of the California Endowment’s East Oakland Building Healthy Communities (EOBHC). Launched last spring, the salon project aims to improve the working environment for nail salon staff in Oakland, while reducing the greenhouse gas and other toxic pollutants from Oakland nail salons.

According to CHAA’s Health Equity Initiatives lead, Ann Rojas-Cheatham, MPH, PhD, Oakland is a haven of nail salons. “People come from all over the Bay Area to these salons,” she says. “There are over 200 nail salons in this city.” With the high volume of these establishments in the community, one can only imagine the toll that the chemicals used in this industry is having on the environment.

Even though establishments like nails salons may not seem as harmful to the environment as large polluters like industrial plants, chemicals used in nail salons do have considerable effects on the environment and individual health.

According to Asian Communities for Reproductive Justice, some of the solvents, hardeners, fragrances, glues, polishes, and dry/curing agents, and cleaning products – known as volatile organic compounds (VOCs) – contribute to global warming, specifically through the formation of smog. Hospital grade cleaners and disinfectants used in the salons, known as phenols, are produced from large amounts of the greenhouse gas nitrous oxide, in which the manufactured source of this chemical agent is responsible for about 6% of greenhouse emissions.

As for individual health, in addition to VOCs, tetrachloroethene (PCE) has been found to harm the neurological system, liver, and kidneys after short and long-term inhalation. Other health effects of some nail salon workers that have had prolonged exposure include high rates of multiple myeloma, stomach cancer, mixed lymphomas, cirrhosis of the liver, spontaneous abortion, birth defects, reproductive problems, and asthma.

In an effort to make conditions and salon practices better, the CHAA incorporates strategies that involve policy change, research on the products used in Oakland salons and their impact on the environment, and community engagement – with nail salon workers involved in every step. Owners and workers learn how to improve salon practices to protect themselves and others, and they can also implement practices that save the environment and money.

One key partner of CHAA is PG&E, which conducts energy and water audits at the salons – resulting in changes that save salons approximately 20% annually on utilities.

The program is also pushing for change at a different level. Participants are strategizing to build communication and understanding between Vietnamese nail salon workers and African American clients. “There are often misunderstandings and miscommunication in the salon setting,” says Rojas-Cheatham. The barriers that language and culture can create poses challenges in fostering relationships in the effort to better the community.

As a salon patron, I think that it is wonderful for programs like CHAA to take on an initiative like this. Often times, we tend to associate the depletion of the ozone layer with diesel emission, and large-scale industrial pollution. It’s unfortunate that the nail salon industry is not given as much advocacy and attention, even though it is right under our noses.

Owned by Van (Vanessa) Nguyen, La Belle Vie is one of over 200 nail salons in Oakland. Katherine Brown – Oakland Voices.

In learning about this initiative, I cannot help but think about the salon that I frequent – La Belle Vie Salon (formerly Tina’s Nails), located in East Oakland on East 14th, near Seminary Avenue. So I stop by to talk with the owner Van (Vanessa) Nguyen, 47, who bought the salon in April 2011. After immigrating from Vietnam over four years ago, the mother of two decided to own her own business. “I like to design – make the nail look pretty,” says Nguyen, “and challenge myself by running my own business.”

When Nguyen bought the salon from the previous owner it was really affordable for her. However, she sometimes thinks she got into this business at the wrong time. “Business is hard. When the economy slows down, people don’t have enough money for nails. Money is spent on things more important,” explains Nguyen.

In addition to the tough economy, Nguyen has had problems with her clients. “There are some good and bad experiences. Some don’t want to pay, or steal the color (nail polish), or complain after they get their nails done.”

Many of her clients are black women. I have personally witnessed some of the “bad experiences” that Nguyen is referencing, and how language and cultural barriers lead to misunderstandings, leading clients and stylists to mistreat one another. I have seen some African-American clients fly off the handle and demand that the stylist re-design their nails because the color they asked for “didn’t look like they thought it would.”

Interactions like these ultimately end up with stylist talking among themselves in Vietnamese – which I’d imagine is peppered with unpleasantries fueled by frustration. Their clients then become more infuriated and use explicit language to further express their displeasure with the service they feel they are receiving.

I have also seen instances of clients promising to run to their cars really quick to get cash in order o pay for the full set that the stylist has taken great care to design, only not to return. The end result – a free manicure for them, and increased prices for those who are honest and pay. Not to mention the loss of product and income for the stylist and salon. These, as well as other similar instances, only further widen the gap between Vietnamese stylist and their African-American clientele – which could stifle any momentum in making this industry green.

Despite these challenges, Nguyen has worked hard to create a business that not only aims to have quality customer service, but includes upgrades and changes to protect her staff and her clients, because, she says, “when my customers are happy, I’m happy too.”

Under her ownership, gone is the heavy aroma of chemicals that was so thick it would cause my head to ache. She greets each and every customer with a smile and warmth – something that you don’t feel very often in parts of The Town – which is met with appreciation.

The relationship that I have with Nguyen is beyond stylist-client. She is a like a family friend. When my sister and mom accompany me to the salon, we talk about family. Nguyen has a daughter preparing for college and she often seeks advice from my mom on how to best support her. As college graduates, me and my sister tell Nguyen what her daughter can expect and how to prepare her for school.

These interactions aren’t directly related to the greening of the nail salon industry, but there is an important connection. Relationships such as these help build communities by fostering trust and respect for one another’s ideas. That opens doors so different groups can together to identify solutions to environmental, economic, and health challenges that we face each day – regardless of whether you’re Vietnamese or African American.

VIDEO – ‘Tis the Season: Laurel Neighborhood Harmonizes to Help Others in Need

Valerie Brown-Troutt, community member and artist, captures the beauty and diversity of the Laurel neighborhood on the street banners installed this winter. Photo: Katherine Brown

By Katherine Brown

Is harmony and unity possible in East Oakland? The Laurel Merchant and Laurel District Association strive to prove that it does.

The second annual Laurel Holiday Stroll and Donation Drive is just one of over 20 events held in the Laurel District geared towards strengthening relationships between the community and local business.

This year’s event focused on helping those in need. Donations of food, gently used coats, toys, and pet supplies were collected for distribution by the Oakland Fire Department (High Street Station), One Warm Coat, and the Oakland Pet Shelter.

During the event, participants had the opportunity to mix and mingle with other community members at different business along MacArthur Avenue – between Loma Vista and High streets. You could participate in the paper snowflake cutting workshop. Or take in a production of “Annie,” held at the Kids and Dance studio. You could also dine on $1 and $2 food options at the local restaurants and lounges.

Like each snowflake created – the Laurel district is a wealth of uniqueness and diversity. Katherine Brown – Oakland Voices 2012.

Thomas Wong, 39, is the Executive Director of the Oakland Business Improvement District and has lived in the Allendale neighborhood for 7 years.

To Wong, the Holiday Stroll is not only a grassroots effort that fosters collaboration between community members and local businesses for opportunities to give back to East Oakland communities. It is also a chance to chip away at the fear and worry that some may feel in East Oakland. For event participants, Wong feels there is “a sense of safety in a proactive way by coming out and supporting the community.”

As a community member that lives relatively close to this neighborhood, it was nice to see events like this in East Oakland. We tend to see gatherings like these in North and Downtown Oakland, but rarely in the East. East Oakland has a culture and a richness that is not often tapped into, so I’m happy to see events like the Holiday Stroll thrive.

Other East Oakland residents and event participants share their perspectives on what events like these mean to East Oakland.


Joanna Gritz, 36, is an East Oakland native – she talks about how this event helps the community.


Luan Stauss is a Laurel District business owner – she talks about what the event means to her and East Oakland.


Valerie Brown-Troutt is an artist, and has lived in this East Oakland Neighborhood for 30 years. She shares her perspective about the uniqueness and diversity of the Laurel neighborhood:


Eric Richardsen, 24, is an Oakland native. He talks about why it is important for East Oakland to have events like these.


Oakland Mayor, Jean Quan, talks about the importance of buying local and how it helps the Town.



A Message to Oakland: Love’s in Need of Love Today

How deep is your love for the Town? Photo: Katherine Brown.

By Katherine Brown

Good morn or evening friends

Here’s your friendly announcer

I have some serious news to pass on to everybody

What I’m about to say

Could mean the worlds disaster

Could change your joy and laughter to tears and pain

-Love is in Need of Love Today – Stevie Wonder, 1976

Stevie could not have penned words any more true than the lyrics of this song. I’d like to believe that Stevie must have been thinking about – or at least foreseen things in – my city when he wrote this. With the senseless acts of crime and violence that occur in The Town almost everyday, the heartache and pain that lies in its wake dim the light of hope, positivity, and love of the community and the folks in it.

Even though this light is weak – it still has life. As a long time resident of this city, my belief is that this flame will never die. But in order for this light to shine strong and brilliant, it will need the love and support of its communities. Everyone that lives, works, or plays in Oakland will need to unify to keep this light alive.

But is there any love left in The Town? If we look at the homicide rate of 2012 alone, one might say that love is impossible, if not non-existent.

But I beg to differ. I see the love here. Don’t get me wrong, I am not ambivalent to pain and sorrow caused by the acts of hate that occur. However, I do see positive efforts that community members are making to counter these attacks on the heart and soul of this city.

To see if love in the Town exists, I spoke to several community members to find out what their definition of love is, and how it is exhibited in the city.

I spoke to 27 year-old Zelmi Acevedo, who has lived in East Oakland for 15 years. She and her parents immigrated from El Salvador with the hopes for a better life.  Love “is a big word – but I don’t think it exists in this city anymore,” Acevedo says. “When I came here, it was different – no crime, no danger. Walking down the street was nice, but not any more. I feel scared.”

It’s that love’s in need of love today

Don’t delay

Send yours in right away

Hate’s goin’ round

Breaking many hearts

Stop it please

Before it goes to far…

The power of love of love in Oakland shines bright. As a community, we cannot let this love fade into the sunset. Photo: Katherine Brown

From Acevedo’s perspective, the love in Oakland is almost extinguished. But there are some who are fanning the embers to keep this love alive.

Marisa Manriquez, 28, is a self-proclaimed radical peacemaker, and has lived in Oakland for 3 ½ years. She sees love as being, “a divine principle. In a very human way, love is the way we get to catch a glimpse of the wonders of God’s creations. The human connections and relationships. It’s a deep knowing.”

Manriquez says that she sees love in the people of Oakland. “In the way people make great efforts to sustain the community. How they give so much of themselves for the youth of Oakland.”

But she does acknowledge the barriers that prevent this love from flourishing. “We have mistaken what love is. Finding love in a pure form is difficult. It requires a deep need of recognition that healing is necessary.”

Manriquez views love as a practice. “When that is recognized, the healing can begin. When you make a conscious effort to heal your life, you love yourself more, and then you love others.”

We all must take

Precautionary measures

If love and peace you treasure

Then you’ll hear me when I say…

Other definitions of love include those of 17 year-old Asha Webb, an Oakland native who believes, “love is eternal. Someone that will never leave your side – not breaking your bond.” Or that of Alex Paige, 61, a homeless man that has spent much of his life in the Oakland/Bay Area. He sees love as being, “a friend, lover. It’s steadfast. It’s protection and understanding.”

Then there is the perspective of artist and Oakland native Jim Copes, 61, who feels that “love is unconditional, (it’s) affection. It feels like warmth. Love is Oakland!”

Copes believes that The Town’s residents have the ability to foster love amongst one another, specifically because of Oakland’s diversity. “People come from all over. It’s kind of like a gold rush,” says Copes. “People are discovering Oakland. They see unlimited possibility and opportunity.”

Copes says that in Oakland, “We have the potential to build and grow. The time to do something is now. We are love and we have to express that.”

It’s that

Love’s in need of love today

Don’t delay

Send yours in right away…

Through volunteerism, East Oakland community member, Marco Lindsey, is committed to keeping love in The Town alive. Photo: Katherine Brown

East Oakland native Marco Lindsey, 34, defines love as, “the outward showing of an inward feeling of positivity. The willingness to sacrifice for others.”

The father of five admits that, as a youth, his definition of love was much different. At one point it meant to die for something – a person, neighborhood, or thing. “I abandoned that definition because it wasn’t real love. I realized that to die for something is quite easy, and to live for love is more difficult and exemplifying.”

Lindsey shows his love for The Town through his volunteerism and advocacy, which he says happens a lot more in Oakland than we think or see.

“Love is all over, but you have to have your eyes open. People come in (to Oakland) with the idea that there is hate. But people are in the community working to improve it,” Lindsey says. “There is a lot of love in East Oakland, but it is overshadowed by hate.”

What the world needs now

Is L-O-V-E love

L-O-V-E love…

For Lindsey, love is something that is taught, and there needs to be more opportunities for youth in particular to express love in a more positive way. However, some that exemplify love, he says, “no longer feel comfortable in the community and leave, which creates a vacuum. Once these people leave, the community is left with people that don’t know how to exemplify love, and the fire goes out.”

My hope is that for The Town – for my town – we have not gone that far.

VIDEO: Health of the Hood – What Makes the Mills College Neighborhood Unhealthy?

With the advent of speeding in my community, neighbors remind drivers to obey traffic laws. Photo: Katherine Brown – Oakland Voices 2012.

By Katherine Brown

So what makes a neighborhood unhealthy? Is it limited access to fresh produce? Is it a liquor store on every corner? Or is it the speeding cars that zip up and down MacArthur Avenue every evening?

Over the course of two days, I set out on foot around my neighborhood – the Mills College/Seminary Avenue area – to identify what could lead to poor health outcomes for folks that live, work, and play in this area.

During my walks, here are some unhealthy aspects I noticed within my neighborhood:

  • Police and ambulance sirens – morning, noon, and night.
  • Piles of trash lining the street.
  • Cars constantly running the stop signs at the corner of Brann St. and 56th Avenue.
  • Liquor stores and outlets that serve sodium-filled and greasy foods.
  • Non-residents sitting in their cars in front of neighbor’s houses – some stop to smoke weed or drink Sometimes, they’re casing houses to rob.

At the Mac Arthur Boulevard and 55th Avenue intersection, numerous car accidents have occurred here. Katherine Brown – Oakland Voices 2012.

I have lived in this community for over 20 years, and I have definitely seen many changes over time that do not aid in improving the health of my neighborhood.

For example, over the last year, there has been a rash of break-ins and robberies. In one instance, a family was at home when would-be robbers tried to kick their door in.

Fortunately, no one was physically harmed – but in speaking to the mother, and hearing her worry and concern for herself and her family, it was apparent that invisible wounds that still remain.

I love my neighborhood – it is my home – but I cannot help but worry about the health of my community.

An unhealthy aspect about this neighborhood is that it is not biker-friendly. There are no marked biking lanes along Mac Arthur Boulevard, near Mills College, which could be dangerous for riders and drivers. Photo: Katherine Brown – Oakland Voices 2012.